01/05/2006 12:00AM

Philanthropist in ideal position


NEW YORK - The first Saturday of the Gulfstream Park meeting finds three stakes races, the $125,000 Aventura Stakes and a pair of $100,000 events - the Mr. Prospector and Hal's Hope handicaps. Santa Anita presents the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, while the richest race this weekend is Saturday's $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

Hal's Hope Handicap

When the newly configured main track at Gulfstream was introduced last year, it didn't take long to learn that with a very short run to the first turn, inside posts in races at 1 1/8 miles were a distinct advantage. With that in mind, and with this the first 1 1/8-mile race of this Gulfstream meeting, Philanthropist, breaking from the rail, is the firm pick.

If Philanthropist was a closer, his excellent draw wouldn't mean that much. He has enough early foot, however, to make good use of his favorable post. But there is more than just post position to recommend Philanthropist here.

Philanthropist, like most Phipps Stable horses, was cut out to be a nice one. But after the early part of his career was marked by fits and starts, he really put it together during the last months of 2005. Philanthropist comes into this on a three-race win streak, and his most recent victory was probably the best race of his life. That was Aqueduct's Queens County Handicap, in which Philanthropist made the early pace and then came back on late after appearing a beaten horse in midstretch to edge West Virginia, who is the morning-line favorite in the New Orleans Handicap.

New Orleans Handicap

Alumni Hall and West Virginia have been sharp in graded stakes in their recent starts, each winning one no further back than four starts ago, and are obvious contenders in this race. Enhancing their prospects in this race is a lack of early speed, which means that both should be pace players from the start. So, too, will be Mr. Trieste, who ships from New Mexico in search of his ninth straight win. I have no serious knocks against any of these three, other than the likelihood that they will be the first three choices in the betting, which means their prices won't be very appealing.

In search of betting value, I'm going with Brass Hat. Brass Hat regained winning form last time out in the Prairie Bayou Stakes at Turfway Park going from turf to dirt. And since that was only his second start after a 13-month absence, he can be expected to take another step forward. In fact, Brass Hat could easily approach the form that saw him in 2004 win the Ohio and Indiana derbies, and earn Beyer Speed Figures of 103 and 106. A Beyer Figure in that neighborhood on Saturday should be enough to get the money.

San Pasqual Handicap

Turnbolt has never raced a step beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, so you would think he would be at a disadvantage facing seasoned routers in a race like this. Maybe he is, but I still like him.

Perhaps one reason why Turnbolt has never gone long is that he might have never had the chance because of physical infirmities, which seem like they were a compromising factor considering he is a very lightly raced 5-year-old who has had frequent layoffs. But Turnbolt appears to be going good now with three starts the last three months. He romped two starts back, and most recently he earned a solid Beyer Figure of 107 finishing second to the upwardly mobile sprinter Bordonaro in the Vernon O. Underwood. You have to go way back in the past performances of the others in this race to find a comparable dirt Beyer.

As for stretching out to two turns, Turnbolt is bred for it, being by Deputy Minister from a Seeking the Gold mare. Moreover, he is trained by Richard Mandella, who sports excellent statistics with starters going from sprint races to routes.


Gulfstream Park: Hal's Hope Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-2:44 p.m., Central-1:44 p.m., Mountain-12:44 p.m., Pacific-11:44 a.m.; Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Breezy, 64¦

2Seek Gold9488895-2
3Ricardo A75878815-1
5On Thin Ice103741009-2
9Dazzling Dr. Cevin799110520-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly

Louisiana Downs: New Orleans Handicap
4 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-5:28 p.m., C-4:28 p.m., M-3:28 p.m., P-2:28 p.m.; Bossier City, La., forecast: Sunny, 69¦

1Brass Hat9582776-1
2Dixie Meister92898312-1
3M B Sea991008810-1
4Silver Axe-103974-1
5Sanctuary's Omooni86776820-1
6Mr. Trieste-93937-2
7Alumni Hall93104995-1
8West Virginia9898825-2

DRF odds

Santa Anita: San Pasqual Handicap
4 and up, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: E-6:38 p.m., C-5:38 p.m., M-4:38 p.m., P-3:38 p.m.; Arcadia, Ca., forecast: Sunny, 68¦

1Bully Hayes9797946-1
5Buckland Manor104841036-1
6High Limit8588897-5
7Sam Forli72n/an/a15-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly